1894 - 1971
Help Solve a Mystery !
A short while ago, we received a request for information on Mona Vivian, a pantomime artiste. The request came from Canada, from relatives who hoped to find out more about her, and her work in Pantomime. Originally we had just one mention of Mona on the site, but further investigation has revealed a lot more information about a lady who starred in pantomime and revue for at least twenty five years, and probably much longer.
is what we know to date:
Mona Vivian was born
Anne Mona Jessie Vivian between April and June
1894 and, contrary to earlier information about her being born in a miner’s cottage at Ings road,
Mona’s Mother was called Anne Griffith. She had a sister Margaret Griffith (Roger Toft’s Grandmother - Roger is Mona's second cousin), and several other sisters, including Gwendolyn and Edith. Altogether there were three boys and six girls in the family, including Mona’s Mother.
Mona’s Mother, Anne came from a wealthy family- her Father, Joseph Griffith owed coal mines in Wales, and received a very good education. Joseph’s accountant left for Australia, taking with him a considerable sum of the Griffith fortune, and Mona’s Grandfather was declared bankrupt.
Anne married a gentleman called Roy Vivian, and apparently when Mona was a young child he abandoned his family. Anne had had no proper training, but she did play the piano, and took Mona around the pubs getting her to sing and dance to make ends meet. Juvenile acts were very popular in the Late Victorian, early Edwardian era.
One of Anne’s sisters, Gwendolyn, married Sir Reginald Brade, and lived on Park Lane in London. They moved in high social circles, and it would seem were not enthralled by Anne and Mona appearing on the stage, and it appears that they all but lost contact with the family.
Anne persevered with her attempts to make her daughter into a star, and at a very young age succeeded- “Wee Mona” became a popular attraction in music halls and pierrot shows.
Roger mentions that some of the Griffith ancestors of Mona’s are buried in a churchyard in Swansea.
By the time she was four
years old she had appeared at the Hippodrome in Wakefield, and by the age of
five years old she became very well known as “Wee
Mona”. In the 1901 census she was living in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne aged
7. Subsequently her family moved to Rhyl, in
North Wales. Postcards featuring “Wee Mona” were sold, and several
have come to light recently.
Whilst in Rhyl Mona joined a “Concert Party”, a
group of entertainers who played the seaside resorts. Mona played her home
1905 The Pierrot company Mona joined as “Wee Mona” was “Adeler & Sutton’s Pierrots”. The company included Whit Cunliffe and Bert Errol, also destined to be stars of the Music Hall. She also appeared with “Arthur Sutcliffe’s Entertainers” at the age of eleven, performing at the end of Llandudno Pier.
1908 “Wee Mona” appears on the bill with the legendary Marie Lloyd, at the Liverpool Empire. Also on the bill were Daisy James, G.W.Hunter, and featuring “The American Bioscope”. (November 26th and week).
It seems at the tender age of twelve, Mona became Principal girl in pantomime, and at the age of fifteen, Principal boy.
It was Francis Laidler, the impresario who set her on
the road to pantomime fame. She first appeared at the Princes Theatre,
In his book “Domes of Delight” about the Bradford Alhambra, Peter Holdsworth quotes
“The number of Francis Laidler’s pantomime discoveries for whom “the govenor” provided a first step of loftier things is exceptional… some of the names may not ring a bell today, but they meant much in their time…Mona Vivian was quite a youngster when she first appeared for Laidler…”
See also our article on Francis Laidler.
Mona appeared in the revue-play “The Truth About Me” at the Sheffield
Empire. She appeared with the comedians Neil Kenyon and the O’Gorman
Brothers. Neil Kenyon was a popular Scots character comedian at the time.
Mona returns to
About this time it seems Mona turned to appearances
in Music Hall, and was soon a star turn. She was an excellent dancer, clog
dancer, singer and yodeller, and was by now in great demand.
1915 - Mona begins a lengthy tour of the revue “Good Evening. “Mona plays a very important part with a verve and abandon which, combined with her girlish charm, appeal to her audience. With her character impressions and her graceful dancing she makes a great success” (The Stage).
Mona left the show to appear as Principal Boy for Francis Laidler at the Royal Theatre in Leeds in 'Robinson Crusoe'., and rejoined the tour afterwards.She returned to the Prince's Theatre Bradford for the 1916/17 season as Principal Boy in 'Dick Whittington'.
In “The Lost Theatres of
“Other famous acts of the day were, the beautiful Miss “happy” Fanny Fields… Go.Won.Go Mohawk, an American who signed all her photographs “Aboriginally Yours” and not forgetting Miss Mona Vivian, the celebrated singer…”
The following year, in
Mona is Principal Boy in “Dick Whittington” at the Royal Theatre,
“As You Were” opened at the
London Pavilion (not the Hippodrome as earlier thought) on
Mona played the part of Ann Hathaway and was described by
the press as “an alluring coquette”. Alice Delysia played the part of Queen
Elizabeth and Morris Harvey was Shakespeare. Also in the cast were Hayden Coffin
and “The up and coming Mona Vivian”, referred to by the press as “This
Fantastic revue” it featured the hit song “If you could care”, sung by
Miss Delysia. Additional cast members included were
Hancox, Clifford Morgan, Leon Morton and Strafford Moss. The show later opened in Broadway in January of 1920, but failed
to appeal to American audiences. The cast there appears to be different, so it
would be unlikely that Mona crossed the
There is a recording of “As You
You'll also find a recording of 'Two Little Maids From Greece' on YouTube, featuring Mona and Daisy Hancox.
The Following year, in 1919
Mona Vivian appears as Aladdin at the Royal Theatre, Leeds. (This replaces the
previous information that Mona appeared as Colin in “Puss in Boots” at the
1919 “Variety Gossip: The Stage November 20th” “Mona Vivian, who is to be “Aladdin” in Mr. Francis Laidler’s pantomime at Leeds will be heard ther in in a new song from the pen of George Arthurs entitled “Lena Heinz”. The music is by Arthur Klein.
1919 “Aladdin” at Leeds.
In 1920 she appeared at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham in a review called 'The Passing Show of 1920'. For the pantomime season that year she appeared as Robin in Mother Goose with Georgie Wood, John Humphries, Horace Mills and Fred Whittaker at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham.
By the 1920's Mona Vivian seems to be appearing in revues, either touring on the Wylie-Tate circuit, or at the London Hippodrome in revue. Every year she appears in pantomimes, often for the same organisation. She had recorded for Columbia , and her name appears on several sheet music covers. Among her musical successes were 'I've got the sweetest Girl in Maryland' (1910), 'Iowa' (1920's) and 'There's a Cabin in the pines' and 'I lay me down to Sleep' (1930's)
Mona has also branched out into flying- on a wire at any rate. The following is an interview Mona gave to the “Pantomime Annual” in the 1920’s:
had been two years in the same town in pantomime and felt that the third year
I must do something different. Said I: “I will fly!”
I had no idea how, but arrangements were made in due course.
flying apparatus didn’t arrive until the dress rehearsal, and at the first
trial the men who held the rope hadn’t the foggiest notion what to do. They
kept me for quite a time dangling at the end of a wire, knocking at the knees
and trying to look as though
I’d flown all my life. Then they pulled, and I
flew (not gracefully I fear) across the stage. But on the return journey they
let go the rope and I went full tilt against the wings, banging my ankles
“some” and getting shaken up tremendously.
felt a very faint fairy then, but I remember hearing shouts from the front;
“That looks lovely, Mona. Do it again!” The shouters were blissfully
unconscious of the fact that stagehands were at that moment trying to “bring
I was “brought round” eventually, and for the rest of the pantomime my
flights across Buttercup Dell were the nicest part of my work.”
Mona was Principal Boy in “Puss in Boots” at the Palace Theatre,
fine artiste may be said to have been on stage since the cradle, for she has
appeared in pantomime since the age of five, as “Wee Mona”……She has a
collection of nearly 1,000 dolls….”
Francis H. Warren (London artist) taken in 1921 with Miss Mona Vivian at the London Hippodrome
photo provided by Francis' grandson Alan.
“The Peep Show” at the London Hippodrome starred Leslie Sarony, Stanley Lupino and Mona Vivian. There is a Columbia recording (Columbia 3037) of Mona Vivian singing “The Kiltie Brigade” on side A, and “Lena Schmidt” on side B. Interestingly, the book was written by Laurie Wylie, and the music by James W.Tate- so, Wylie-Tate wrote as well as produced and toured their own show. “The Peep Show” ran for 417 performances.
In 1922 Mona appeared in Pantomime at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow in Queen of Hearts with Lupino Lane.
In 1923 Mona was touring with Wallace
Lupino in a Wylie-Tate review entitled “Dancing Mad”. One of its
appearances was at the Palace Theatre,
In 1924 Mona is Colin the Principal Boy in “Puss in Boots” at the Liverpool Olympia.
The following year, 1925, finds her in Birmingham as Prince Robert of Scotland the Principal Boy in Humpty Dumpty with Wee Georgie Wood and Barry Lupino. At rehearsal she was heard to remark plaintively "It's the first time I've ever had to be Principal Boy without being a hero! To all intents and purposes George is the hero of this show; I only get the girl in the end because he gives her up!"
“She is versatile and vivacious and dances extremely well”. (The Stage).
At the Anniversary Night celebration on Wednesday March 3rd 1926, the last of the great clowns, George Lupino, appeared for the last time on stage in a Harlequinade with Barry Lupino, Mona Vivian, Arthur Conquest and Bernard Dudley. Seventy-three years before, George Lupino had actually been born in a dressing room at the Theatre Royal. He collapsed as he retired from the stage.
she is at the Grand Theatre,
During the 1920’s Mona was in constant employment, and had worked with Wee Georgie Wood (who described her as one of his favourite Pantomime performers of all time), with Billy Merson, Dick Tubb, Lupino Lane, Barry Lupino, Wallace Lupino in various pantomimes and revues.
In 1927 between April and June (now confirmed as Monday May 16th 1927) Mona married Joseph H. Crowther in St Martins in London. Her marriage was registered under both the name Mona and her real name which was Annie M. J. Vivian.
“The Stage” newspaper reported (Thursday 19th May)
“The marriage took place on Monday at a registrars office in the West End of MONA VIVIAN and HILTON CROWTHER.
Miss Vivian is this week at The Bedford with “Hello Charleston”
We received an email to the site from a researcher called Phillip Southall. He is writing a book on Leeds United Football Club and from what he says, it appeared Mona married Mr J. Hilton Crowther. A Millionaire! He said J Hilton Crowther was the chairman of Leeds United Football Club
He was a woollen mill owner, along with his four brothers they owned the Milnsbridge Woolen Mill (we assume in Huddersfield, Yorkshire). He and his brother, D. Stoner Crowther were wealthy men. J Hilton put first £27,000 into the Huddersfield Football Club in 1918 or thereabouts, and added a further £18,000. A huge fortune in those days (the British depression was looming). There was a scandal & court cases as he tried to use his financial strength (and naturally the football club could not pay back the debt they owed him) to amalgamate the Huddersfield Football Club with nearby Leeds Football Club. He was Chairman of Leeds United Football Club in 1919. The founder of it, we are guessing.
A Guards officer had asked Mona to marry him, but she had already met Hilton Crowther, the millionaire founder of Leeds football club, a man much older than herself, and possibly she thought that Crowther’s wealth would be more durable than the dashing guards officer.
Apparently Crowther insisted that Mona abandon her, by now, glittering stage career upon their marriage, and Mona agreed to this.
The fact that she was appearing in a show a few hours after their wedding did not bode well- if indeed Mona gave up “the business”, it must have been for a very short time, according to her date book of theatre engagements.
A divorce was settled upon with, according to the family history Roger Toft was told, a settlement of one million pounds- a huge sum of money in the 1930’s.
Mona’s career continued- touring shows, summer seasons and, of course pantomimes, and then, during the war Mona was still touring in morale boosting patriotic shows.
Once again, Mona took to flying- but this time for real. In this age of the flapper, a daring “hop” across the channel took a lot more courage than flying across Buttercup Dell. Mona recalls her trip in another interview;
stage career seems to have been full of thrills. At one time or another, I
have fallen down a “grave-trap”, flown into scenery on a wire, and have
been stuck in a lift while the stage waited. But two episodes stand out among
the rest- one off and the other on the stage.
first was when, during the run of a
my most trying time was earlier, in my pierrot days, as Wee Mona. Wearing
childish socks, I sat on the stage waiting my turn, trying to keep up a sweet
smile and – knowing all the time there was a wasp in my sock! That was a
thrill I shall never
1927 “Humpty Dumpty” at the Prince’s Bristol. In the title role, Mona appeared with Dick Evans, Johnnie Schofield and Harry Midgely. Mona sang “How D’you Do?”, “The Birth Of The Blues” and “The Doll Dance” in this pantomime.
“They now have the advantage of being cast with a clever Principal Boy in Mona Vivian, who gives promise of attaining the marked success some of her predecessors in that role at this theatre have enjoyed” (The Stage Dec 30th)
1928 “All For Love”, a revue. In February the show, starring Mona along with Tommy Lorne and W.S. Percy was at the Brighton Hippodrome.
1929- During August Mona appeared in “The Show Of Shows” at Blackpool. Co-starring with her was Billy Danvers (They sang a duet “Lancashire Love”) and this Julian Wylie Show also featured Max Miller and The Houston Sisters.
1929 “Hop O’ My Thumb”, The Opera House, Manchester, produced by John Hart .Mona sang “The Pretty Little House That Jack Built” and “Singing In The Rain”. This year she is featured on the front cover of the Pantomime Annual, and has been appearing in pantomimes, it would seem for nearly thirty years, since her “Wee Mona” days.
We are very grateful to Paul Stevens for submitting this photo - it is from the Princes Theatre, Bristol 1930
In 1930 Mona again starred in “Hop O’ My Thumb” this time at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. The script was written by R.C.Oldham, and produced by T.D.Mills. Mona sang “Sweeping The Clouds Away” as her opening number, along with “Punch & Judy”, “Take Your Hats Off To The Navy”, and “It Happened In Monterey”, for no apparent reason in the Home Of The Butterflies that closed Act One! In Act Two she sang “Over The Garden Wall” and the Principal Girl sang the popular ballad “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”.
In the year 1931 Mona spent the Summer Season
Mona performed in Goody Two Shows during the 1931/2 season at the Prince's Theatre Manchester.
1932 Pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe' at the Prince's Theatre, Bristol
We have found some information about a song which Mona may, or may not, have recorded but certainly the sheet music was released. It was taken from her shows in 1933 at the North Pier, Blackpool entitled 'On With the Show'.
1934 Summer Season: For Hope & Palmer at the Town Hall Theatre, Clacton with Tommy Trinder, and Rebla. The season opened on July 14th.
In September 1934 Mona was top of the bill in variety at the Shakespeare Theatre Liverpool. Making his “Liverpool Stage Debut” was Hughie Green and His Gang- a youth variety show within a show.
1934 Pantomime 'Dick Whittington' at The Prince's Theatre Bristol (we had originally thought this to be in Belfast).
Mona’s favourite pantomime was “Aladdin”- she claimed the story had everything-riches, loss of riches, marriage, elopement.. Mona in this pantomime being an only child, sang a Doll song. Norman Quilliam in his article for “Callboy” magazine remembers that her mother, even when she was starring was a big influence, and was always present assisting in the dressing room.
In his article Quilliam recalls
seeing Mona on stage. He describes her- “One
minute she had a demure pensive look and then suddenly one saw an effervescent
impish sprite, portrayed by zest and sparkle in her movements plus her
expressive looks and shapely legs..” He
continues…”Only once can I remember her not topping the bill, on this occasion
being second to Billy Bennett and stealing the show! You will have gathered
that Mona was one of my favourites and, in conclusion, all I can suggest is
“Don’t say sparkling
1936-. Mona was appearing in variety each week. Dates included
February: The Ilford Super (Cinevariety) & Stratford (with Stewart & Olive and the Three Virginians.) March: Tottenham Palace. April: The Blue Hall, Islington and the Canterbury Music Hall. May: The Chelsea Palace (with Donald Peers) & The Metropolitan (with Bartlett And Ross, and Leon Cortez and His Coster Band). November: The Edgware Road Grand and The Kilburn Theatre.
1936 Red Riding Hood. The Garrick Theatre Southport. A Barrie Baldrick Pantomime. Reg Marcus played Dame Trott, and Jack Murray was Simple Simon. Josie Bellis was the Principal Girl and Pansy Cave-Moore was Red Riding Hood. Mona was Principal boy.
“As bright and vivacious as ever, and in song and dance imparts a freshness which is captivating. Her chief songs are “Does Your Mother Come From Ireland”, “Mickey Mouse’s Birthday”, “When The Poppies Bloom Again” and “There’s A New World”. With Mona Vivian in the leading character the show has a tremendous asset”
(The Stage. December 31st 1936)
1937 “Blackpool Breezes” a Roy Barbour Revue. This commenced a seven month tour starring Mona and Fred Wynne.
“One of the best staged productions of the kind one has come across for some time….The scene of the illuminations at the end of the first half is excellent. There is a Pierrot show, a pleasure beach, a boxing booth and Hector The Horse (Leon & Kiki, skaters).”
Mona appeared in “Her own full time turn, in which she impersonates film stars is one of the best applauded” (Stage).
By 1938 Mona has moved to London. She presides over the Variety Artistes Ladies Guild and Orphanage. The President of this Guild is Gracie Fields.
From the 27th December 1937 until January 15th 1938 she appeared at the Kings Theatre Southsea as Prince Sterling in Little Red Riding Hood. The Pantomime was produced by W. Barrie Baldrick and G.E. Williams. According to The Stage Review of the 31st Dec 1937 'The Fairy Tale is linked together by thirteen sparkling scenes, which embrace plenty of pantomime fun, novelty acts, some spectacular settings, and a charming snow ballet, which follows a mechanical transformation of Honeysuckle Glen from summer to winter'. The cast included Frances Hughes (Bo-Peep), Irene White (Red Riding Hood), Reg Marcus (Dame Trot), Fred Hovis (Baron Allbroke), Teddy White (Simple Simon), Phyllis and Giles (Speciality Act), Yvonne Zeeta (Fairy Goodheart), The Moyson Sisters (Tommy Tucker and Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary), Jenkin Brothers (Bubble and Squeak), Wilfred Brandon (King of the Wolves), Rodney Hudson Girls and Zeeta Girls. It was directed by Wilfred Brandon and the orchestra was conducted by Arthur King. Mona sang among other numbers “Gangway” (Made popular by Jessie Mathews)
The Stage says of Mona, 'Mona Vivian, forsaking variety to play principal boy, makes a saucy Prince Sterling and woos Bo-Peep, the belle of the village, in a dashing style. She puts a gay swing into some of the chorus numbers, including the popular 'Gangway' and is also well backed up by the Zeeta Babes, a troupe of clever juvenile dancers, in 'Ten Pretty Girls'. Her versatility is further revealed by some delightful impressions of cinema stars.'
In 1938 she was touring in a review called 'Win Lose or Draw'. It was, apparently, well described on the bills as a sporting revue, and deals mainly with the subject of football. Presented by Lew Lake Jnr. The cast includes Will. R. Willby, Hal Jones and the Caroll Troupe. A few months later she is appearing in “King Of The Castle”, another Lew Lake show along with Eric Cole, Francis Hughes, Hal Jones and Cliffe & Kopie on the Moss Empire Circuit. Dates include the Holborn Empire, Manchester, Birmingham, Croydon and Derby.
1938“Little Red Riding Hood”, Lewisham Hippodrome. Mona appears once again for Barrie Baldrick as Prince Sterling. Peter Fannan is Dame Trot and Fred Hovis Simple Simon.
She “succeeds in portraying Prince Sterling as a young and gallant Prince really should be. Her personality is magnetic and makes itself felt not only on her audience, but by transmitting enthusiasm to the others with whom she works”. (Stage).
In 1939 she was appearing in the show 'This Way Please' which was presented by John D. Robertson. With Johnnie McGregor, Jack Leonard and Al Lewis. Dates include Dublin, Queen’s Poplar and the Empress Brixton. Also in the cast are Syd and Max Harrison, Tom Collins and the Avril Twins. Mona was also accredited with some of the book and lyrics.
During the Summer Mona tours in “Pack Up Your Troubles”. World War Two has commenced, and patriotic revues are the order of the day. The show tours the Moss Empires and Mona “Shines in “Down Lambeth Way” and in a versatile display of speciality numbers” (Stage)
1939 December: It appears that Mona is not in a pantomime this season, but appears in John D. Roberton’s “The Christmas Show” at the Queen’s Theatre, Rhyl along with Johnny McGregor Mona sings “There’ll Always Be An England” in this show. She performs this throughout December 1939 and in January 1940 is in the same venue, the show has now become “New Year Revels”.
1940 “New Year Revels” tours, and then Mona returns to the John D. Roberton revue “Pack Up Your Troubles”. This tour the cast includes Iris Day, Antoinette et Ninon and Charles Dudley and his Midgets.
In 1942 she was appearing in the review 'The Peep Show' with Fred Gwyn and Patrick Colbert. It was a sparkling Modern Review in Sixteen Scenes.
NEW - In January 1945 we have just received a programme from a touring Clarkson Rose production of Dick Whittington. We find Mona once more in the title role. This information was sent to us by the daughter of Pat Ayres who played Tommy the Cat in the production.
After Mid 1940 information on Mona Vivian is very sketchy. There is a report in “The Stage” in October 1946 regarding the Variety Artistes Ladies Guild:
1946 - Mona Vivian presiding received a cheque from the President Gracie Fields for £31,000. This sum of money being the royalties from “Stage Door Canteen”. Attending that meeting were Mrs Harry Tate Jnr. and Margery Manners.
In 1946 she was appearing in Dick Whittington in Bognor Regis. Presented by Harry Goodson, she appeared as Principal Boy with Denise Hardy (Alice Fitzwarren), Bert Faye (Idle Jack), Jack Morris (Fitzwarren and Emperor), Murphy & Mack (Captain & Mate), Richard Arnold (Cat), Lilian Hendry (Colin), Jean Ward (Ruby), Billy Wells (Cook), William Burnett (King Rat), Joy Holman (Fairy Queen), Vera Hazel (Ballerina) and Michael Nicholas's troupe of dancers and juveniles.
In 1948 she toured in the review produced by Bernard Goodman 'Peace Comes to Peckham' with Wally Patch.
1969 “Wee” Georgie Wood replies to an enquiry to “The Stage” that Mona Vivian is “Well and happy” in her retirement. Later, in early 1971 Wood refers to “The Late Hilton Crowther”, recalling how Mona’s husband would often accompany him to football matches at Leeds.
According to "Stage Man's Diary" written by her friend and co-star, "Wee" Georgie Wood, she died on the 9th June, 1971.
Hopefully items on Mona’s career, and possibly her family life may come to light, but we hope that someone reading this article may be able to shed more light, or fill in some of the gaps in the career of this fascinating lady. What began as a one-line mention under our “Principal Girl” section, has now uncovered a lifetime career in the service of Pantomime.
We are grateful to Max Tyler, archivist of the British Music Hall Society for his help in updating the Mona Vivian article, and for the Norman Quilliam article from “Callboy” in the mid 1980’s.
We are very grateful to Alan Garner for the additional information on As You Were.
We are very grateful to David Hartshorne for the information about the Theatre Royal Birmingham, Passing Show and Oh Patsy.
We are very grateful to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection for information about the 1934 Pantomime
We are very grateful to Jacqueline M Hingston who provided us with some fascinating information about Mona's birth, marriage and some information about where she was living during her childhood.
We are very grateful to Phillip Southall for his information on J. Hilton Crowther and the initial marriage information.
We are very grateful to Roger Toft (Mona's Second Cousin) for information about Mona's family, her marriage and subsequent divorce and about a family visit in 1947.
We have recently been contacted by John Watson, a popular music historian, who started us on the trail of Mona's recording and broadcast career. He supplied us with details of a BBC broadcast from 1934.
Back In Town
This led us on to find some recording details:-
"As You Were", Pavilion 1918 the song "Fritz" on Columbia
Autograph of G.S. Melvin and Mona Vivian - Date Unknown
We are very grateful to Richard McDonald for the above photo
All information gratefully received on behalf of Mona’s relatives, and your intrigued hosts at
This page was last updated 30th November 2015